This Spicy Garlic Eggplant (鱼香茄子, Yú xiāng qié zi) is packed with flavors of spicy chili, ginger, and a mixture of delicious sauces. What an appetizing dish to add to your lunch and dinner plans!
My spicy garlic eggplant dish is inspired by the famous Sichuan dish ‘鱼香茄子, Yú xiāng qié zi’. Yu Xiang translates to Fish fragrant and the name always tricks me into thinking there is fish in there.
In actuality, restaurants often make it without seafood or meat in the States. However, I still check with the restaurant to make sure there is no meat or seafood in the dish before I place my order.
Eggplant is one of those vegetables that I was not fond of until I became an adult and now I can’t live without it. Eggplant tastes great in curry, stir fry, or as a side dish by itself.
This Spicy Garlic Eggplant is so flavorful and easy to make and because my family loves it so much, I make it whenever I get some great Japanese eggplants.
Spicy Garlic Eggplant Key ingredients
Ginger – is one of my favorite ingredients to use in a lot of dishes. Minced ginger works the best and gives a slight heat with lots of flavor in this simple recipe.
Garlic – lends a bit of sweetness and umami punch to this dish which makes it a nice blend with ginger and the sauce. Skip this ingredient if you can’t have garlic.
Chili – I used softened dried chili peppers to which I had their seeds removed then chopped into smaller bits. Fresh chilies or chili flakes are other great alternatives.
ChenKiang Vinegar – just a tad bit of vinegar is all you need to make this as flavorful as it is. I love ChenKiang vinegar as it has a stronger taste and it gives the dish a darker color. Other options include rice vinegar but the final color would be lighter.
Cooking wine or Michiu – is optional but its saltiness and sweetness did give this dish a nice finishing touch.
How to make Spicy Garlic Eggplant
Step 1: Prepare the eggplant. I chose the frying method this time. Quick note: when deep-frying the eggplant, don’t use extremely high heat. The temperature should be around 375°F (190°C).
I normally use a chopstick to test the oil. Stick a chopstick into the heated oil and as soon as you see bubbles around the chopstick, then, it’s ready for you to fry the eggplant. Fry the eggplant for a minute, then remove and drain on a paper towel to absorb excess oil.
Step 2: Heat a non-stick pan and mash tofu into tiny bits, then add a drizzle of oil and cook tofu until golden brown. Add the chili, ginger, garlic, and continue to cook until aromatic. Add in the prepared eggplant and sauce, then quickly stir to combine.
Step 3: This step is to cook the eggplant until it turns fork tender. I mix the cornstarch in water and add it to the mixture.
Let this cook until the sauce starts to thicken and the eggplant is fully cooked through. I used low-medium heat to simmer the eggplant until the flesh is soft.
How to retain the eggplant’s color
Pick your eggplant
I love to use Japanese eggplant but also understand that it’s not always easy to keep the purple eggplant color. This step goes all the way back to how to choose the eggplant.
- Look for eggplants that have a darker purple hue with a white top and no brown bruises. Normally, young and tender eggplant fit this category the most.
- Eggplant should be firm with shiny and smooth skin.
- When you cut open a young eggplant, the flesh is white with little to no black seeds.
How to keep the color during cooking
There are many ways to keep the eggplant purple during cooking and here are some ways that worked for me but for the best, first, you need to pick the right eggplant with the steps above.
Vinegar – Soak sliced eggplant in a bowl of water with vinegar for about 2 to 3 minutes. For each cup of water, use about 3 teaspoons of vinegar. Then drain and continue with how you would like to prepare it.
There are a few ways to cook the eggplant: fry, steam, and bake. The frying method is the best method to keep the color. I also find that high-heat deep fry will cause the eggplant to turn brown faster, so use medium-heat.
To steam: My mom likes this method the most. Place cut eggplant on a steamer rack and steam over high heat for about 8 – 10 minutes. Remove and air dry to cool.
To bake: Rub cut eggplant with oil then bake at 400°F (204°C) for about 20 to 25 minutes.
What if I don’t want to pre-cook the eggplant
I tried this method in the past and it only worked with the young and tender ones with dark purple skin. Here is what I did:
- prepare the eggplant in the last step (right before you need to cook it)
- use more cooking oil
- add the eggplant, skin down first so that part touches the oil
- a quick toss to evenly coat the eggplant, then continue to add the rest of the ingredients
- add water with cornstarch and let it simmer (I used more water for this method as the eggplant wasn’t pre-cooked)
These are some of the methods I have tried and I hope they will help you in making your eggplant dishes.
This Spicy Garlic Eggplant is
- Quick to make and a great pair with Steamed Bun or rice
- Easily customizable; use gluten-free sauces for a gluten-free option
If you try this recipe, I would love to hear your feedback and see your beautiful re-creation. Leave me a comment, rate it, and tag @woon.heng and #woonheng to your photos on Instagram or Facebook. Happy cooking, friends!
Spicy Garlic Eggplant (鱼香茄子)
- 1 lb [450g] Japanese eggplant
- 2 oz [65g] firm tofu pressed and mashed
- 6 dried chilis boiled until soft
- 1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
- 3 cloves garlic sliced
- a handful of chopped green onions
- oil for cooking
- salt to taste
- ¾ cup water with 1 teaspoon cornstarch whisk to combine
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon Chenkiang vinegar
- 1 tablespoon cooking wine, Michiu or sub with vegetable broth
- Place dried chilis in a small pot with 1 cup of water (enough to cover all the chilis) and bring it to a rolling boil. Then, cook until chili turns soft. Drain and chop chilis into tiny bits which should yield about 1 tablespoon.
- Cut eggplant into 2" chunks, then heat a small tall pot with about 1 cup of oil to about 375°F (190°C).
- Fry eggplant for 1 minute, remove and drain them on a paper towel to absorb excess oil.
- Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat with a drizzle of oil and add in the mashed tofu. Pan-fry tofu until golden brown, then push to the side of the pan.
- Add another swirl of oil in the pan, and sauté chili, ginger, and garlic until aromatic, about 1 minute.
- Place in the partially cooked eggplant and season with soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, michiu, and give it a quick toss to combine.
- Gradually add in the water with cornstarch then stir to mix all the ingredients together.
- Let the mixture simmer until the sauce is thickened and eggplant is fork-tender. Season with more salt or soy sauce if needed.
- Transfer to a serving bowl and serve warm with a bowl of your favorite cooked grain.
- If using round eggplant, increase the water required and cooking time